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I don't think it is such a bad thing to be labeled as "internet-centric". While the internet is not central to the power of the ideas you are describing, it (along with, and perhaps more importantly, the layer above it - the World Wide Web) has given much greater agency to these ideas. It has amplified the impact of decentralized networks as organizing structures and holds promise for these ideas to become mainstream at a large scale (it has made these ideas "scaleable" to use another internet buzzword). While plenty of people have been talking about this -- back to anarchist thinkers of the 18th C and before -- the WWW now gives us the ability to "do", to actually test out these ideas on a scale large enough to make a big impact. Its not the ideology, but it is the enabler. This should not be discounted.

Les Elkind

Your thinking agrees with my own conclusions regarding the need to shift from competition to collaboration. Many cannot yet see the implications of the changes occurring all around us, right in front of our faces (with our eyes glued to our smartphones). Folks like Morozov seem like the famous frog, holding on to a point of view that renders him unaware that the water in the pot is rapidly coming to a boil. The only alternative I see to collaboration is a Cloud Atlas-like corpocracy, a 1984ish dystopia for the 99%. Unfortunately, as long as Morozov et al hang on to their point of view I'm afraid that is a likely scenario.
Thanks for your insights. Much appreciated.

Jen Fein

Alas, with Evgeny it's always a zero-sum game. There's never any middle ground, or room for alternative perspectives—it's his view and some variety of wrong view, that wrongness directly proportional to the view's divergence from whatever academics and theoreticians he's currently enthralled by. One might say that in Morozoviet Union, all the ideas have you.


I've always enjoyed your willingness -not- to take things to their ridiculousness extreme then break it apart.

An ability to take an assortment of ideas, theories, ideologies -in moderation- then see how to get those pieces to fit together in a coherent way.

In other words, you practice what you preach. (See Ideas, Emergence)

doğal taşlar

Hi amazing article , I added my bookmarks.


Thanks for sharing this useful article. A great blog with inspiring informations in a clear design, well done and greetings


Jinkies, coherent comments to a blog post. Who'd'a thunk?

Just watched your TED talk for the first time, which gave me an additional idea for a short story I've been trying to write about a Big Brother computer; the extra idea came about because of your comments during the TED talk about someone's methodology using a Big Brother approach for discovering (one way) in which ideas develop. And I found the TED talk video because I watched a 90-second video on Facebook this morning about understanding and perceiving patterns, which mentioned your name. So I Googled your name (and came across a disturbing syndrome, which I assumed did not have to do with you and patterns) and then came across two of your videos: a short one on fora.tv and then the longer TED talk. And now I'm about to watch a YouTube video called Where Good Ideas Come From.

I just watched the video, and will have to watch it again because I was mesmerized by the graphics and missed some of the content. I was trying to determine if the whiteboard graphics were done real-time (by a person drawing on a whiteboard) or if they were computer-generated. I only watched it once, but I think it was done (semi) real-time by an amazing artist (okay, it would still be an amazing artist (or artists) if it had been done on a computer).

And now to continue my babbling about the path I took to get here. Midway through your TED talk, in addition to the flash/idea about Big Brother, I had a stroke/idea about putting together a graphic workflow of how to create a short story (which seemed like an eerie premonition when I later watched your YouTube video with the whiteboard). And to continue my theme (liet motif?) of digressions, I'll digress to tell you about why I thought about the short story workflow. For years I've been trying to figure out a way to tell stories. I write (unpublished) fiction and have tried in vain to figure how to be a storyteller. I can write a story, but I'm not good at storytelling (I get nice rejections from editors telling me they almost bought such-n-such story, but decided to pass). Quite frustrating. Now several years ago, I sat in the audience as Nancy Kress (fairly well known, award-winning writer in science fiction circles) said that her epiphany/idea on short story writing occurred when she took two elements and put them together into a short story. I thought, "Cool. Maybe this is what I've been looking for!" Alas, that was three or four years ago. I've tried to use her suggestion, but it just never clicked.

Until this morning. Periodically, I Google something like, "how to plot," or "idea into story." Well, today for the first time, I Googled, "story construction." And that led me to an essay by Emeritus Professor at Princeton (and writer of fiction), Ricardo Piglia, titled, "Theses on the Short Story." And a light bulb/idea went off because of his main thesis statement, "... a short story always tells two stories." And his essay then, of course, explained his thesis statement. And his essay mixed with Nancy Kress's advice and blam.

And then after reading the essay by Piglia, unconnected (or so the universe would have me think), a cousin of mine posted the 90-second video about understanding and perceiving patterns which led me to your TED video and the extra idea for a short story I've been developing and, seemingly unrelated, the thought I had about a graphic workflow on how to write a short story, using graphics akin to the YouTube video of yours I just watched. From the "Theses on the Short Story" essay to here happened all this morning within a couple of hours.

And while the impetus for my comment to your blog was actually about the amazing coherence of the comments to your blog and was going to be only a few lines. It exploded into this essay about the generation of ideas by, in this case, using the Internet and social networks.

Who'd'a thunk? And thanks.

Tekno Sosyal Medya

Thanks for sharing this useful article. A great blog with inspiring informations in a clear design, well done and greetings

Ellyse Taylor

The wide reaching impact of the peer progressive movement through a fascinating cross-section of Johnson’s characteristic seeming deviations-that turn out to be brilliant allegories for the core argument.

Emilia Palaveeva

In one of his recent rants, Morozov was admiring a Polish philosopher who argued that "absolute consistency is identical to fanaticism.” Yet he himself displays unflinching consistency. I find that ironic.

His latest New York TImes column, which attacked openness, was one of the weakest arguments I have read in print. Morozov says (my questions in parenthesis): "A victory for openness might also signify defeat for democratic politics (failing to explain why), ambitious policy reform (what ambitious policy reform is threatened by openness? Openness is the only semblance of policy reform that we are seeing right now) and much else (care to elaborate?)."

Your Future Perfect book is an inspiration to many. I hope people with ideas are not distracted by the nay sayers of the day adn their unsubstantiated criticisms.

Dan H.

I've read all of your books and would agree that the common thread you draw is the power of "peer" or "distributed" networks, not an internet-centrisim. As you have shown, the rise of peer networks predates the internet, and is a basic form of social organization employed without regard for the technology in place.

That said, I'm wondering if you think that peer networks provide the ability to counter and resolve looming problems that scalability introduces? You have spent a lot of time researching and looking at how as organisms and societies scale, complexity increases along with an increase in intractable problems (ie, climate change).

I'm also wondering if you've read any of Nicholas Nassim Taleb's work and if you think his research into fragile systems adds anything to the conversation or impacts your thoughts on the subject?


In Emergence the nature of scalability in self-organizing systems IS pretty well flushed-out. Peer-networks are just a manifestation of self-organizing systems. Cities resemble ant colonies because of this strange organizing principle that seems so difficult for people to grasp, probably because the nature of it is so expansive yet pieces of it focused on to the exclusion of other aspects of it.

A problem may appear "intractable" in the context of a snapshot in time, but does that make it really intractable ?

self-organization isn't some sort of guarantee or panacea. Hundreds of thousands of worker ants in a colony die in wars over the life of the colony. Colonies that aren't wiped out eventually learn to avoid conflict more often than engage in it. Are these systems "fragile" ? Is the word even relevant when discussing complex self organizing systems, which by virtue of being complex have numerous components, or is it merely redundant ?

What strikes me most about Morozov's essay isn't that he has a problem with "internet centrism", or sees things primarily as some political agenda to defend or refute, or that he attributes some nefarious self-serving watering-down to the bulk of Steven Johnson's works. What strikes me about Morozov's critiques, if you can call them that, is that they are based on a series of false and narrow assumptions based on his own misunderstanding of Johnson's body of work.

Emergence is amazing. We understand little bits and pieces of it, but in an increasingly overly specialized world of people who only see things within their own narrow fields the awe of how dynamic and strange and remarkable and ever present it is gets easily lost in petty bickering about how best to politically apply the few principles that seem to embody something that we are only beginning to understand.

It rather sucks the life right out of self organization when you approach it with the assumptions that you know everything there is to know about it, and that your own little fragmentary awareness, based on just what you currently believe in this moment in time, is somehow even relevant and interesting.

Self organization isn't a concept unique to a single field of knowledge; it is potentially a concept that could unify human knowledge. Not everybody is going to be able to deal with that. It takes away their little fragile intellectual fiefdoms.

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My Photo
I'm a father of three boys, husband of one wife, and author of nine books, host of one television series, and co-founder of three web sites. We split our time between Brooklyn, NY and Marin County, CA. Personal correspondence should go to sbeej68 at gmail dot com. If you're interested in having me speak at an event, drop a line to Wesley Neff at the Leigh Bureau (WesN at Leighbureau dot com.)

My Books

  • Steven Johnson: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

    Steven Johnson: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World
    A history of innovation accompanied by a 6-part TV series on PBS and the BBC, this was the first of my books to crack the top 5 on the NY Times bestseller list. Appropriately for a book that celebrates diverse networks, this was the most collaborative of any of my books. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • Steven Johnson: Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age

    Steven Johnson: Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age
    My first book-length attempt to organize my writings about emergence and networks into something resembling a political philosophy, which I called Peer Progressivism. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

    Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
    An exploration of environments that lead to breakthrough innovation, in science, technology, business, and the arts. I conceived it as the closing book in a trilogy on innovative thinking, after Ghost Map and Invention. But in a way, it completes an investigation that runs through all the books, and laid the groundwork for How We Got To Now. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : The Invention of Air

    The Invention of Air
    The story of the British radical chemist Joseph Priestley, who ended up having a Zelig-like role in the American Revolution. My version of a founding fathers book, and a reminder that most of the Enlightenment was driven by open source ideals. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : The Ghost Map

    The Ghost Map
    The story of a terrifying outbreak of cholera in 1854 London 1854 that ended up changing the world. An idea book wrapped around a page-turner. I like to think of it as a sequel to Emergence if Emergence had been a disease thriller. You can see a trailer for the book here. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter

    Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter
    The title says it all. This one sparked a slightly insane international conversation about the state of pop culture -- and particularly games. There were more than a few dissenters, but the response was more positive than I had expected. And it got me on The Daily Show, which made it all worthwhile. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Mind Wide Open : Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life

    Mind Wide Open : Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life
    My first best-seller, and the only book I've written in which I appear as a recurring character, subjecting myself to a battery of humiliating brain scans. The last chapter on Freud and the neuroscientific model of the mind is one of my personal favorites. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

    Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
    The story of bottom-up intelligence, from slime mold to Slashdot. Most of my books sold more copies than this one, but Emergence has influenced the most eclectic mix of fields: political campaigns, web business models, urban planning, the war on terror. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate

    Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate
    My first. The book I wrote instead of finishing my dissertation, predicting the growing cultural significance of interface and information design. Still relevant, I think. But I haven't read it in a while, so who knows what's in there! (Available from IndieBound here.)

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